After last year’s 49-win season, the Washington Wizards have only one thing on their mind: playoff basketball. Last season ended in disappointment, with the team losing in seven games to the Boston Celtics. John Wall‘s heroics were great to watch, but at the end of the day, the Wizards stumbled when it mattered most. The off-season has been quiet in D.C., with the team focusing on retaining talent, rather than adding it. Wall signed a massive contract extension, and forward Otto Porter‘s contract was matched after agreeing to an offer with the Brooklyn Nets in restricted free agency. The work the Wizards have done this off-season will serve them well. With the Eastern Conference seeing a mass exodus of quality players, the Wizards are sitting pretty, having kept their core in place. Here is the 2017-18 Washington Wizards season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Washington Wizards Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
After a slow start to the season, the Wizards woke up around the 30 games mark. Their 2-8 start had fans worried, with the team having just hired a new head coach in Scott Brooks. Brooks dealt with the issues, as the Wizards quickly realized that shot selection was the problem. Through the first 27 games of the season, the team scored 61.1 percent of its points from two-point range. Now, in an ever-evolving league, teams are always learning, and Washington certainly did so.
The Wizards started to take fewer two-pointers and shoot more threes. 61.1 would drop to 58.5 percent through the next 28 games. In those first 27 games, the team was scoring only 22.6 percent of its points from beyond the arc. Looking to change direction, Washington went from 22.6, all the way up to 27.2 percent, a huge strategic change by Brooks. It was a great example of a team learning on the fly and making the necessary changes, and it did wonders for Washington.
What Needs Improvement
This team isn’t terrible on defense, but improving on that end should still be a focus. Talent-wise, the Wizards have the personnel to be better defensively. But unless the effort on that side of the ball improves, the inconsistency will remain. The likes of Porter, Markieff Morris, and Wall can all do more to help the team.
One visible weakness of this Wizards squad was its bench. Whether it be giving up leads or failing to keep games close, this unit cost the team wins. When you have Brandon Jennings coming off the bench, you have a problem. Injuries early on led to the bench lacking quality depth, leading to the team having to make changes. The acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic was a key move heading into the playoffs, but in the end, it still wasn’t enough.
Washington can also improve on the boards. Offensively, the team is solid, but defensive rebounding is an issue. Ranked 23rd last season in defensive rebounding, the Wizards have an easy fix in this area. The health of backup center Ian Mahinmi will be key to jumping up the rankings this coming season. Missing 51 games last season, Mahinmi would help improve the bench and the team as a whole.
In what was a solid off-season, the Wizards made sure they could contend for a top-four seed this season. Re-signing Wall and Porter will be key down the line, especially in an ever-changing Eastern Conference. Both players will play a key role, with Porter expected to take the next step. One addition was shooting guard Jodie Meeks, a shooter who could be a key bench contributor. Washington did lose some talent, with Bogdanovic and Trey Burke leaving in free agency.
Expected to return to the playoffs again this season, the Wizards have one of the best starting fives in the NBA. Losing to Boston will only be motivation, especially for a team led by Wall. This could be a season to remember for an impressive backcourt, with both Wall and Bradley Beal looking to make the All-Star Game.
Washington has done a great job keeping its core intact, which could lead to a repeat of last season’s conference semi-finals. In a weakened East, the Wizards will look to take advantage of big changes in Boston, uncertainty in Cleveland, and a lack of experience in Milwaukee.
This team is talented, talented enough to be the number one seed in the East. However, with a lack of bench depth and health likely becoming a factor, Washington should look to secure the third or fourth seed. The Wizards will finish with a 47-35 record, earning home court advantage come playoff time.
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